West Xtra: Dedicated nucleus leads Montour to success despite obstacles
Share with others:
The Montour High School swimming program began the season with 57 swimmers, but that number has shrunk to 27, with the more-than-50 percent attrition rate attributed to the program's demanding requirements.
One positive result of the high "drop-off rate" is that Montour has a very dedicated group of athletes competing this season.
Take, for example, sophomore Jarod Kehl, one of the Spartans who stayed Montour's demanding course. In an early non-section meet against Hopewell, Kehl broke Montour school records in both the 500- and 200-yard freestyle events. The previous 200-yard freestyle record had been set by Greg Matusewski, but Kehl also broke his own 500 record, which he had set just last year.
Kehl's times in the 500- and 200-yard freestyle at Hopewell were 4:46.38 and 1:48.68, respectively. Although Montour did not win the meet at Hopewell, Kehl won both of those events.
"[Kehl] was totally way out in front of everybody," Montour coach Kathy Lopez said. "He very rarely gets pushed, but he's quite capable of pushing himself."
On Jan. 10, Montour competed against Cornell, a rival based on proximity, familiarity and respect. The Montour girls' team had tied the Raiders the previous year, and this year the Spartans really wanted to win.
So Lopez played chess with the lineup. She sought to offset the Cornell/Montour matchups from the previous year; she didn't want to put Montour swimmers in events against the same Cornell swimmers from that meet. Coincidentally, Cornell's coaching staff had done the same thing.
"It was kind of funny," Lopez said. "One of the biggest rivalries for [Montour's] Mareena Shuster is [Cornell's] Casey Boburka. I was trying not to swim Mareena against Casey, and Cornell's coach was doing the same thing."
Sure enough, Shuster and Boburka jumped in the pool for the 100-yard backstroke. They were next to each other in lanes three and four. Both seniors knew it was the last time they would face each other -- at least in a dual meet.
Shuster and Boburka got off to good starts, but Boburka distanced herself.
"It was a little bit close, but Casey got [Shuster]," said Lopez. "It was a good race -- it was the best race of the night."
Montour's girls still won the meet, 90-77. The Spartans' boys won, too, 95-69.
"It was particularly important to the kids," said Lopez. "Our boys 400-free relay qualified for WPIALs at that meet," Lopez noted.
She explained that the boys' 200-yard freestyle relay and the 200-yard medley relay had already met their WPIAL qualifying times, so it was important for the boys to have made the 400 cut.
Matt Kwalick, Norbert Janus, Grady Butler and Jarod Kehl made the WPIAL cutoff time in the 400-yard freestyle relay versus Cornell. Their time was 3:49.78. The 200-yard freestyle relay and the 200-yard medley relay had been swum by Kwalick, Janus, Kehl and Andrew Mentzner.
Lopez noted that all three of the girls' relays have qualified for WPIALs at this point as well. Shuster, Emily McCleary, Kelsey Venigni and Christine Shine are the swimmers on Montour's girls relays.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the Montour swimming teams' achievements is that the Spartans have made them without the benefit of their own pool.
The Montour team practices at the Sto-Ken-Rox Boys' and Girls' Club in Kennedy. The pool lacks features that most high school pools have -- the pool is measured in meters, and there's no 15-meter mark to tell swimmers when to surface.
The pool also lacks some of the markings commonly used to teach athletes to make their turns. Nonetheless, the team goes to the club for two-and-a-half hour practices on non-meet days.
Although the drop in Montour's roster may have been significant, Lopez actually enjoys knowing that the athletes who've stayed are the ones who will work to win.
"It helps me in the lineup," Lopez said. "These are the kids who are willing to work hard and do well."
Kelsey Venigni, a senior, recently had the experience of losing her lane to a sophomore teammate. But Venigni beat her teammate in the 200-yard IM during Montour's meet with Beaver two weeks ago.
"I just wanted my lane back," Venigni told Lopez.
"She just dug in," said Lopez. "I really like to see the digging ... I really like to see they want to be the best."
In fact, the desire to be the best is really the thing that characterizes the Montour Spartans swimming team. There may be only 27 of them, but they stayed on the team in spite of the hard work and the inconvenience of not having a home pool.
"We're battle tested," Lopez said. "We're getting things done that a lot of people didn't think we'd be able to do."
First Published January 24, 2013 12:00 am